News junkies often develop a tight relationship with a favorite TV anchor or cable-news outlet. Mosheh Oinounou hopes some of them will turn instead to a “news concierge.”
The former executive producer of “CBS Evening News” is among the many journalists discovering they don’t need a traditional media apparatus — say a TV-network control room or a giant printing press — to serve up information and analysis. Some reporters are taking to independent newsletters via companies like Substack. Oinounou has found a perch for himself on Instagram, where he helps everyone from random followers to a handful of celebrities make sense of current events. He even takes requests to help explain specific topics. Joe Jonas is among those asking him questions.
“My feed is sort of Drudge Report meets Axios meets The Skimm — all on Instagram,” he says in an interview.
A daily Instagram Story from Oinounou will contain information on coronavirus case counts, the latest Trump tweets; big political stories; and some of the day’s more random flotsam and jetsam. Each page cites a news source and occasionally adds some comments and context. On December 10, for example, Oinounou summarized Jane Mayer’s New Yorker report that alludes to concerns about Senator Dianne Feinstein; Airbnb’s IPO: and Taylor Swift’s new album. One summary about a Politico story that says the Biden administration intends to disinfect the White House after President Trump leaves is accompanied by an audio snippet of Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty.”
Instagram lends “intimacy, people are living with it,” says Rachel Adler, an agent in CAA’s TV group who represents Oinounou. “It allows people to DM him and they ask him everything from what’s the best kind of pizza in Chicago to what is the political risk if Michigan Governor Whitmer has to break a tie of electors?”
Many journalists from the print, TV and digital worlds are testing the independent route. Katie Couric publishes a morning newsletter. Megyn Kelly launched a regularly scheduled podcast. There is a distinct rise in the number of mainstream news personnel trying their hands at being entrepreneurs, whether it be ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams, who has built a group of digital sites focused on media, law, crime and even whiskey, or Dan B. Harris, who gave up an anchor slot at ABC News’ “Nightline” to focus more closely on building out an audience interested in his work with meditation. A handful of prominent scribes from digital hubs like The Intercept, Vox and Buzzfeed have lit out for new territory — the world of subscription-based digital newsletters.
The rise of easy disinformation on social media — pass-alongs of unverified and opinionated musings, inaccurate details from ‘bot’ accounts — combined with the fragmentation of audiences has made the process of identifying trusted news sources more complex. The Pew Research Center found in two April surveys that only 9% of U.S. adults were “very confident” they can tell if a news organization does its own reporting When asked whether six different news sources — ABC News, Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, Google News, Apple News and Facebook — did their own news reporting, 23% of U.S. adults could not correctly identify whether any of the six outlets did so, according to Pew.
Americans hire dog-walkers, physical trainers, and short-distance drivers. Is assigning someone to summarize news-cycle headlines that much of a stretch? “The feeling that I got from a number of followers was that they were overwhelmed by cable news and Tweets and didn’t know what to trust as they heard conflicting messages,” Oinounou says, noting that his fledging efforts to distill information generated more intense interest in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. “There were rumors going around about what was being closed and the country going to martial law,” he recalls. He likens his Instagram feed to “taking a deep breath,” and noted that more followers started to ask: “Can you keep us up to date on what’s going on?”
Oinounou has been doing just that for years. He worked as a producer at Fox News Channel’s Sunday public-affairs program, “Fox News Sunday,” anchored by Chris Wallace, before moving to work as an editor at Bloomberg TV. He joined CBS News in 2011, working on the team that helped launch the current edition of “CBS This Morning,” then took on the task of helping to launch the company’s streaming-video news outlet, CBSN. He arrived as the top producer at “CBS Evening News” just as anchor Jeff Glor took the reins of the program, then left the network after a change that put Norah O’Donnell behind the desk of the venerable program. He has recently been consulting for various companies’ digital-content strategy..
There is a sense traditional news outlets — including TV-news hubs — may be looking for people with a higher degree of digital savvy, says Adler. “Technology has really democratized people’s access to information, and it has allowed journalists to harness their own individual power and ambition to figure out how to make that work for themselves, says Adler, who represents CNN’s Abby Phillip, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, among others. She adds: “In my corner of the world, we are bullish about networks continuing to invest and put real resources against what were once ancillary businesses.”
The former network producer says his previous jobs didn’t give him the audience connection he currently enjoys. Some followers tell him, “I don’t know what’s true, but I trust it coming from you,” he says. “I came from a world where I was executive-producing a broadcast that had millions of viewers,” but now “people are direct messaging me their reactions to things and their experiences.”
He is hoping to find a way to turn his efforts into a more solid business, and has started an account on Patreon to help generate support. At a time when more people say they find the idea of trusting mainstream news outlets more difficult, Oinounou hopes his efforts can provide some sort of substiute. “I hope to be a rare platform, a rare place, where people can break out of their bubble,” he says.